This is one of my older texts, it was created when we had started this blog and it was written only in Polish. Because it presents the reason why 18xx is so poorly recognized in Poland well, I decided to update and translate it for the rest of our readers.
Why games of the 18xx series are not popular? I will answer from my point of view. Before I convinced myself, for a long time I was afraid whether it was really worth buying. I was wondering if this is the type of game that will interest me, because the railway games I met before 18xx did not encourage me to explore the subject more.
Here are some reasons why people hesitate before playing 18xx:
This is one of the key elements. For almost every 18xx game, BGG reports that the game lasts 300 minutes. What the f ….? 5 hours?! After all, you can play 2-3 other long games at this time. Nowadays you have got more and more games on the shelves and you have pressure to play each of them at least once, then you can mark it out and buy the next one. Long playing time is the biggest block if your board games meetings last only a few hours in the evening. When I started the adventure with board games, we met at 8PM and played for 3 hours. Then there was no room for 18xx. Fortunately, this has changed. Now if we start at 8PM, we play longer, usually up to 1AM – 2AM. Remember also that the first game takes much, much longer! I think that the time given on the box must be multiplied by two when it comes to new players.
Tip: an introductory person is required in each first game, who will show you what to do and how to do, and will give the game fluidity, that is, it will direct the players so that the actions performed make sense and the game itself progresses accordingly. It is also important that everyone has a well-thought-out action and performs it as fast as he can.
Through the progress of the game, we understand technological progress, the so-called train rush, a race in the development of trains, which are used by corporations. We will write the whole article about this, now I just mention that it is the replacement of trains for the newer ones and those for the newest ones. It forces the game to run and causes that we leave other players behind (or in deep shadow if other companies had to reject obsolete trains because of us). If new players do not know this fact, the game can go up to 10 hours or more, instead of 3-4. Think about the chances that someone will want to play it again?
Another thing that scares off new people and is related to the time of the game is the question: “What if I do not like it and I will be tired for 5 hours?”. Unfortunately, if you do not try, you will not know. Theoretically, there is a risk of bankruptcy, which usually ends the game. What is worse, when bankruptcy is avoided and you will be forced to get rid of a large part of the shares then you know that you will not catch up with the rest of the players and it is the best to make an appointment that you end up playing in such a situation or inform you that you deliberately strive for bankruptcy and players have a few more rounds to your honorary seppuku.
When you want to buy any euro game, you have a lot of options: local stores and online stores, auctions, forums … you can buy a new or used one and usually you can choose among dozens of offers. If you’re interested in 18xx, then …. Usually, the choice of what is available in stores where you have previously bought games is probably very limited. If you’re lucky, there is one or two games there. All other 18xx games you can only buy directly from the producer in the US or in Germany (or in secondary market). If you have not found out about it, you have not searched the net, your enthusiasm is quickly passing by.
Tip: There is a third option, it is to make yourself a game from materials (files) that are available on BGG. At this point, a dozen very good games from the 18xx series are available in the print-n-play version.
However, it is not so easy, because you have to print the board, track tiles, cards, tokens, a lot, then you have to cut it all out, some to stick to cardboard, paper, tokens… and if you have no experience, doing it in this way is a real challenge.
It’s at least a few dozen hours of work, just to play a game – which you do not know if you like it. Tell your wife / girlfriend now, that you will be ‘a little’ busy for the next month.
Because the time of the game makes them not so popular, so the publishing houses print 18xx games in a small amount or make games especially for your order. A small amount means a much higher price. Only a few titles have appeared in a larger edition and they are available only for a relatively short time, the shop volume will be sooner or later sold out and the game price automatically increases.
So you have to invest (considerable money) in something new, something that no one knows and it’s even hard to say whether you will have players for it? And what if you don’t like this game? Here is one positive information, almost every title of 18xx, you can sell quickly with a small loss of money.
Let’s summarize what we have so far: the time of the game, which scares off and games that are nowhere to be found, and they are available usually in prices from ~ $ 80 and more. This price ($ 80) is very good when it comes to 18xx.
That’s not all, because you are reading about these games, reading and reading, you convince yourself that it is worth trying: well, maybe it will be not so bad, maybe you will convince the co-gamers to take effort and devote one whole day and / or most of the night to get to know the 18xx game. And you find out that all of this makes sense and the game does not kill you with its lenght, only when you will invest in buying poker chips. For their purchase you have to expect an expense of a minimum of $80, but probably much more. That’s why I suggest that when buying poker chips, also take into account other games: Arkwright, Indonesia, Food Chain Magnate, then the expenditure is less so. By the way, if you like Arkwright – which is pure economics game, or Splotter games, it’s very, very likely that 18xx will also appeal to you.
BGG shows games complexity from 1 the simplest to the 5th as most difficult. This is the one of the main criteria I used to create my collection. After learning about dozens of titles, I and my wife Ania came to the conclusion that games that has less complexity than 3, we quickly get bored and sooner or later we sell them. The most difficult of the titles in the collection has 4 or a little less and this is the threshold at which some from our players say ‘pass’. Not once and not twice of the co-gamers said that their brain cells were burning while playing these titles. This is not the end because 18xx games are even heavier.
The most popular title 1830 has a complexity of 4.15, and a large part of 18xx has 4.5 or more. Fortunately, I have good news, the heaviness of 18xx is not that there are a million rules and strange mechanics or exceptions in these games. Meanwhile, the complexity of 18xx is rather related to the possibilities that open up in various ways of playing co-players, the 18xx rules are intuitive, for example if you sell stock shares their price falls, when all shares are bought their price grows, as well as the payment of dividends and many other things. In mechanics, everything overlaps nicely and it is easy to justify these rules, whereas in euro games, the rules are often abstract and difficult to explain.
All 18xx use a common, similar template. If you learn one title only, you’ll see that the next rules will be similar. This does not mean that these games are identical, on the contrary, there is a huge diversity in them, it’s like changing one of the main rules in chess, you have to think differently then.
Recently I heard a nice comparison: if you are playing 40 hours in some heavy euro, then you know everything about it, meanwhile, after 40 hours of playing 18xx, you constantly wondering if you play according to the rules ?
Does it look like a complicated game?
Here, I could write a lot. 18xx do not belong to the beautiful ones and I have heard about it many times, even at the conventions we had questions whether the game we play is a prototype? People accustomed to colorful and beautifully designed euro games, often complain about the graphics that is in 18xx. Besides, every 18xx looks almost the same, i.e. map, tracks, some stock shares, trains cards and all of them has usually a minimum of graphics. For me, however, all these elements are incredibly legible. And this is the most important thing. When you are sitting over one game for a few long hours, you are happy that everything is so simple and clear, without all those colorful stuff.
18xx are economical battles. You will not see this in euro games, at most you pick up the resources from the common pool, or build on the common ground and first come served first. Negative interaction in these games is practically non-existent. This is good, because not everyone likes it and that’s probably why euro games are so popular. Meanwhile, in 18xx, the fight takes place both on the stock market and on the map. Depending on the title, 18xx give a mass of possible nasty actions: taking over companies, getting rid of failing companies without money and trains for another ‘inattentive’ player or too willingly investing in our company’s shares, lowering the value of opponents’ companies on the stock exchange, and of course tracks and stations, so as to cut off competition from best runs. And the most important in every 18xx: technological race in the form of trains that every railway company needs. All this with a total lack of randomness! If we spoil something, it is only our own fault. Not everyone likes it, e.g. your spouse who has to pay extra money to the company because he has to save it because of you.
In my opinion, the best mechanic, starts the majority of 18xx. It depends on the distribution of small companies that for a certain period of time help their owners in a different way. They often decide which of large companies we will launch during the game and how we will build their connections. But betting is also the most frequently mentioned element of the game, but players do not like it. In most cases, the reason is ignorance and lack of knowledge how much to bid. I do not know, I do not like it – most would say. But not me ?
Games 18xx is a mass of counting, although at the elementary school level, but not everyone wants to play counting posts in their free time. The vast majority of people prefer simpyiest games and they spend time quite differently and only a small percentage of people who play board games will be tempted to play 18xx. I would like to make a consolation that the table with division of dividends into shareholders is a great facilitation. It allows not only to track the income of individual companies, but also makes it easier to count the dividend.
Now you know why this part of the board games exists and works ‘underground’. In Poland, most boardgame players do not even know what 18xx is, while these games are so popular abroad that in several places are conventions dedicated to only 18xx. We envy them so much and we hope that our blog will also change something in Poland.
It is amazing that the entire system is based on one title only 1830, which is almost 40 years old. Since then, over 100 different variations have been created, better and worse once, of course. And there are still more and that’s the best news that should be the beginning of the next article: Why I like 18xx.